This Is Trauma, Folks
Being a participant in a pandemic is a wild ride, isn't it? Many of us are reeling in very unique ways. None of us signed up for this, yet here we are. Some of us take action. Some of us check out. Some of us deny it's even happening with brazen defiance, and some of us respond in fear and anxiety. Others find acceptance and calm. Some of us are first responders and healthcare workers who have been in "go" mode for weeks and don't have time to feel or deal and won't for a while. Some of us are unemployed, hungry and hurting in various ways.
In a previous post about the amygdala, I referred to Dr. Robert Scaer's definition of trauma as: "Any negative life event that occurs in a position of relative helplessness.". See! This is loss....This is trauma.
We didn't get to choose this or opt out. We have to go along for the ride, and we don't like it. If we have had traumatic experiences in our past, (again, refer to my former post) then we are going to be reliving those same feelings, reactions, and responses now. If you had a chaotic upbringing where addiction, abuse, or neglect was prominent, then you may feel oddly calm. You recognize this energy. It makes sense to your nervous system. If you grew up feeling unsafe, invalidated, not getting your needs met, then this experience may trigger those feelings for you now. You may be responding with old patterns of behavior. Maybe you are numbing out with food or addictions, or have crawled into bed and aren't coming out. Maybe you're showing up to "manage" things for everyone, or experiencing pockets of deep emotion amongst periods of good self-care. It's all normal. It's all coping. But it is all trauma reactions in vivo.
We are all having an existential experience. We have been forced into being with ourselves in new ways, sometimes for the first time. With less to distract us in our external worlds, we may be noticing our internal experience feels magnified. But here's what we can do:
"Name it to tame it," and as Dr. Dan Siegel says. We have to give name to our experience. Or, as Mr. Rogers said: "What is mentionable is manageable." When we do name it or mention it, we can distance from it, calm it, transform it. So if you feel scared. Say it. If you feel exhausted, say it. If we can talk about the experiences we are having with all this, we can better manage the stress of it. It's a simple, but powerful, suggestion.
What we fire, we wire. Remember that our brains are hard-wiring this experience, this stress, and that's not a good thing. We need to fire some more adaptive neural networks too. We need to have circuits online that can link up to the trauma circuits in our brain so that the experience is less intense for our nervous system. That means practicing coping skills. How about 3 G's?:
Grieve—spend time with the suffering you feel. Yes, that's right. Acknowledge it while you take walks or journal or talk to a friend. Ignoring it will only make it bigger and less likely to dissipate. Grief is a natural experience right now, so let it have your attention. "Attend and befriend," as Tara Brach says. (If you don't feel you can move on from grief, however, it could be depression. Be sure to reach out to a medical provider in that case).
Gratitude—write down all the things that are going okay right now. Are you healthy? Do you have food and toilet paper? Do you have a loving pet to keep you busy and comforted? Do you have healthy kids? Family or friends who are reaching out? An understanding mortgage lender or landlord or even a good book to read? Look hard. Trust me, there are many.
Ground—spend time each day doing things that help you feel calm, present in your body, more focused and regulated. Deep belly breaths, vigorous exercise-something to raise the heart rate, singing, stretching, and even scents can help. For more grounding ideas, go to www.jhoffmantherapy.com and subscribe.
One of the "gurus" of the EMDR world, Deany Laliotis, provided a video for us trauma therapists last week. It was such a rich resource for us. Inspiring and insightful. She referred to Tara Brach's quote by Louis Cozolino in Brach's latest post (https://www.tarabrach.com/survival-nurtured/), "We are not survival of the fittest, we are survival of the nurtured." We need to connect and nurture right now and from now on; with ourselves and each other. This is the biggest gift we get from this experience: the opportunity to nurture each other. At the end of the video, Laliotis shared a Native American poem I'd like to post here. We all have to experience this together, so let's be together in the experience.
A Hopi Elder Speaks
"You have been telling the people that this is the Eleventh Hour, now you must go back and tell the people that this is the Hour. And there are things to be considered . . .
Where are you living?
What are you doing?
What are your relationships?
Are you in right relation?
Where is your water?
Know your garden.
It is time to speak your Truth.
Create your community.
Be good to each other.
And do not look outside yourself for the leader."
Then he clasped his hands together, smiled, and said, "This could be a good time!"
"There is a river flowing now very fast. It is so great and swift that there are those who will be afraid. They will try to hold on to the shore. They will feel they are torn apart and will suffer greatly.
"Know the river has its destination. The elders say we must let go of the shore, push off into the middle of the river, keep our eyes open, and our heads above water. And I say, see who is in there with you and celebrate. At this time in history, we are to take nothing personally, Least of all ourselves. For the moment that we do, our spiritual growth and journey comes to a halt.
"The time for the lone wolf is over. Gather yourselves! Banish the word struggle from your attitude and your vocabulary. All that we do now must be done in a sacred manner and in celebration.
"We are the ones we've been waiting for."
-- attributed to an unnamed Hopi elder